Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Charles Garside on Calvin's view of Psalmody pt.1

In the following series of blog posts I will be outlining Dr. Charles Garside’s very historically illuminating study on Calvin’s theology of worship song entitled, “The Origins of Calvin’s Theology of Music: 1536-1543.” This study was presented in the summer of 1979 to “The American Philosophical Society,” the oldest scholarly journal in America, which reaches back to 1769. To the best of my knowledge, the historical work produced here by Gardside, relating to the development of Calvin’s thinking on worship song, has not been exposed or refuted as false and inaccurate. Therefore, this historical analysis provides invaluable information about not only Calvin’s views on public worship song, but also, by extension, a baseline to help evaluate the worship views of subsequent 16th century Reformed thinkers and ecclesiastical practice.

What made this particular study so useful for scholarly research and understanding concerning the factors contributing to the development of Calvin’s views on worship song, was that it plugged a hole in Calvin studies relating to Calvin’s theology of song. As Garside points out., since the late 19th century and going on into the mid 20th, a number of outstanding studies on Calvin’s view of song had emerged in the scholarly literature. Felix Bouvet published a work surveying the history of the Hugenot Psalter in 1872, in the later 1870’s Orentin Douen produced a two volume work, massive in scope, which attempted to critically analyze Calvin’s view on music, while Leon Wencilius presented valuable research on Calvin’s view on the arts in general in 1932, then Pierre Pidoux published a critical edition of the Genevan Psalter in 1962, and finally, Walter Blankenburg generated a wide ranging body of research which aimed at producing a panoramic view of the milieu of the Psalter as a whole.

What this massive compilation of research established was that psalm-singing formed something like a badge of identity for 16th century Reformed Christians; what this research had not yet established was the chronological development of Calvin’s views on worship song. More  specifically, Garside narrows the focus of his historical investigation to the events and factors which account for the shape and solidification of Calvin’s theology of worship music and song between 1536 to 1543. The historical investigation is bracketed on one end by Calvin’s scant and underdeveloped remarks about worship song in the 1536 Institutio and the rather enlarged and substantive remarks about the matter in the 1543 preface to the Genevan Psalter on the other.

I bring this first post on Garside’s publication to a conclusion by quoting Garside’s summation of Calvin’s matured and developed view on worship song:

Calvin’s vernacular psalmody in the last analysis is nothing other than a formulation, in uniquely musical terms, of the Reformation principle of sola scriptura. Thus from its inception Calvin’s theology of music in its textual dimension was Scriptural. The Psalter was conceived, and always would be considered by him, as an indispensable instrument for the prosecution of his ministry of the Word of God to the city of Geneva and the wider world beyond (p.29).

Four distinct factors converge to form the basis of Calvin’s views on worship song, which in turn will be the lines of investigation developed by Garside and explored in subsequent posts: pastoral concerns, historical considerations, Augustinian theology, and a 16th century humanistic philosophy of music.

I trust that you will find the forthcoming posts informative, interesting, and edifying.

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